Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Meaning of 'Cure': An Open Letter to Health Marketers

Sometimes, people and organizations use the word "cure" to describe what products or approaches they are promoting to people with diabetes will do. I'm not even talking snake oil salesman, but people who genuinely believe they're offering something of value.

On one such occasion I know of, the person promoting their approach as being a "cure" for Type 2 was challenged as to what, exactly, they meant by that. This person argued, in essence, that the medical community used the word "cure" as being synonymous with "effectively control".

I don't know whether that is true. However, scientific terms are very often more precisely defined versions of words that have been in widespread use for hundreds, even thousands of years. The word "energy", for example, has a substantially different meaning for a physicist than it does for a sleep-deprived student. However, the adaptation of such a word for technical use does not supersede the previous meaning: the student's understanding of the term is fully as correct as the physicist's. Those who fall back on technical meanings when defending the content of messages prepared for the public are muddying the waters, and are likely to be doing so intentionally. I'm remembering a certain former public official who attempted to defend a apparent mistruth by invoking an alternate definition of the word "is".

Therefore, if you're talking to the public, you need to use the word "cure" in a manner consistent with the public's understanding of the term. And so, though I am no more in charge of defining words than the former public official, I thought I would lay out what a "cure" for type 2 diabetes would be for me.

* I don't believe I ever gave any thought to my pancreas before I was diagnosed. If I were to be "cured", I would never give any thought to it again.

* If I were to be "cured" of diabetes, there would be absolutely no need for me to ever check my blood sugar again. If the condition could return, you could say it's "in remission", or use some other term, but I reject the use of "cure".

* If I am "cured," there are no limits to such a cure. There's no "sure you're cured, but you still need to be careful". Once cured, I could make a meal of a plate of lo mein noodles, a large piece of pecan pie with two scoops of butterscotch ice cream, and a liter of sugary soda -- and bear no short-term risk beyond indigestion.

* I don't expect that a cure for my diabetes would magically undo any damage that chronically high blood sugar may have done. However, any further damage would stop. Immediately. We're not talking lowered risk, we're talking no risk.

Know this: if you are promoting a product, service or philosophy for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, and you choose to use the word "cure" in describing the benefit, you'd best be using the word as -I- understand it, and not as some lawyer told you that you could get away with. Otherwise, you will immediately forfeit every drop of credibility that you may have had with me.

Come on, folks. Don't overpromise. If what you've got is of genuine value and has some innovation to it, you don't need the "c" word to develop a market. I've bought a number of products that promise to assist with effective control, and I will never, ever, buy a "cure".

Until, of course, there is a cure. A real cure.


  1. you already know how much i love this! but i'll say it again:

    I LOVE THIS! :)

  2. Excellent. In total agreement with all of your points, especially that last one about damage already done vs. what could still be ahead.

  3. This post is awesome. Spot-on, and awesome.


  4. FANtastic post, Sir Bob!!!! Well said! :-)

  5. Wonderfully put! Perfectly said!

  6. A Manifesto worth reading! That will preach! And I agree wholeheartedly, if you say 'cure' or 'what the doctor won't tell you' let's just say I'm going to examine your motivation very very closely.

  7. Your points are well-stated; "cures" with conditions are not, in fact, a cure for anything.

  8. Right on Bob! I wish "they" would listen to what you have to say. Chances are, they won't; but we can certainly follow your lead and refuse to even consider their products.

  9. You hit the nail on the head. So many people seem not to understand the difference between "remission" and "cure". It's interesting that doctors almost never call a cancer patient cured, so why are they calling things like bariatric surgery a cure? It hasn't been around long enough to know whether the diabetes will come back as the person ages, even if they don't gain back the weight. So, no, the cure for Type 2 is certainly not here yet.


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T Minus Two by Bob Pedersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.